Join this family help save baby sea turtles as they hatch along the coast of Anna Maria Island, Florida, then make their way to the sea.
My previous coverage of Anna Maria Island revealed a myriad of subtropical family fun to be explored during the off season. A family destination truly worthy of a visit is one where there is always something new to discover, and just when I think I have covered everything, nature reminds me to pay more attention.
During our return visit, with a professional background in the natural and biological sciences, I found myself paying special attention to the fenced off endangered sea turtle nest directly in front of our oceanfront apartment balcony at the height of the August hatching season.
Understanding the Sea Turtles Dilemma
We frequently read local paper coverage of unfortunate artificial light-induced hatchling migrations away from the ocean and have seen nests marked off in the sand before. We knew about how the mother sea turtles return to their place of birth to lay eggs, and how they must hatch in the total absence of artificial light to navigate to the ocean… but never during the day so as to avoid becoming sea gull food.
At Anna Maria, we learned that these already endangered species would be a lot worse off if it weren’t for an army of diligent volunteers assuring that the eggs hatch properly. These midwives and “midhusbands” of the surf also return to count all the hatched eggs, rescue any stragglers and report all the results to the governing regulatory agency which gives the permits to the volunteers – touching these cute and magnificent creatures is otherwise illegal.
The latest account of a light-induced misdirection of hatchlings to their vehicular death made our room-front nature preserve that much more valuable and prompted a little research with the local visitor’s bureau and the volunteer office of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Inc. (941/778-5638) nearby.
Being a Nest Monitor
At this non-profit, we learned even more about sea turtles and were inducted into their organization as temporary Nest Monitors. We even had a chance to view a planned release at another beach — hatchlings held in a bucket after being found by lifeguards. Accustomed to such experiences only on TV nature shows, seeing this event for real was something we would never forget.
Armed with their deputized mission of nest monitoring, my children, Drew (10) and Susan (8), diligently checked the nest for signs of activity every night. Two nights before we left, we observed surface sand movement in the afternoon.
A Star Is Born
Turtle Watch quickly arrived with their donated ATV. Loyal residents and visitors joined the volunteers for babysitting well into the evening. By 8pm, a sunken hole had formed in the sand and little subsurface flippers could be seen twitching at intervals.
Building lights were strategically turned off and one was quickly reminded how even starlight, the turtles’ beacon, provides ample illumination once the eye can adjust. Drew and Susan sat faithfully nest-side the whole time and what amazed me the most was their ability to sit quietly and motionless for hours. Turtles were able to command what I could not.
Under turtle-invisible red beam flashlights, the creatures increased their bouts of fits and starts but failed to trigger the threshold needed to begin the instinctive chain reaction of a nest-synchronized exodus. Finally, at about 9:30pm, labor ceased and delivery occurred.
As if on cue, they spilled forth from their sandy womb like a herd of tarantulas to the squealing delight of children and adults alike.
Drew likened it to a horror movie without the horror and realized this was a rare experience. Spreading into a fan-shaped flow of crawling reptilian carpet, they enveloped many of the bystanders, requiring everyone to stand where they were to avoid accidentally stepping on the tykes.
We will always remember the tickling of their proportionally large flippers as they crawled over our bare feet toward their waiting refuge. While interaction with humans is kept to a minimum, some stragglers needed redirecting and coaxing in the right direction. Susan very diligently led one apprehensive turtle to its appropriate destination by pretending to be its mother. Other bystanders herded the rest as necessary.
In about 20 minutes, all that was left on the beach was the occasional ghost crab, the gurgling of the surf and a silent breeze.
If you decide to go, here are some very good online resources to help you plan your trip and join a volunteer organization. It’s truly a remarkable experience, for adults and kids alike. Click here for quick turtle facts, photos and turtle conservation activities in Florida.
Some other helpful links on this topic are:
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